Written by Benedict Lee

What happened?

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia was discovered to have authorised a secret campaign that silenced Saudi dissenters more than a year before the notorious assassination of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. This cruel campaign involved the forceful repatriation of Saudi citizens from other Arab nations and the “surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture” of Saudi citizens in palaces owned by the crown prince and his father, King Salman. The details about this campaign are based on classified intelligence assessments by C.I.A. as well as from anonymous Saudis who had knowledge about this.

How has Saudi Arabia responded?

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor and the Saudi Human Rights Commission are investigating “recent allegations” of the abuse of defendants awaiting trial and prisoners as Saudi laws forbid such power abuse, torture and acceptance of confessions made under duress. Saudi officials acknowledged that a standing order was in place to bring dissidents home and that the murder of Khashoggi was not ordered from Riyadh but rather, a decision made on the spot by the assassins. In contrast, Turkish and American intelligence agencies disputed the response by Saudi Arabia, claiming that the killing was premeditated. As of press time, the Saudi officials declined to confirm those claims and had not publicly announced the identity of the assassins when questioned.

What is the significance?

Although Saudi Arabia has a history of hunting dissidents down, this worsened after Prince Mohammed started to quickly consolidate power after becoming crown prince in 2017. Since then, dozens of people who were seen to be a threat to Prince Mohammed have been detained. Mohammed also locked up hundreds of princes, businessmen and former officials for corruption in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton in 2017 where they were physically abused and coerced into signing over their assets.

This C.I.A. assessment has also resulted in tensions between American spy agencies and President Trump, who is a close ally to the crown prince. Mr. Trump has always been an ardent supporter of Prince Mohammed, saying that the evidence in the Khashoggi murder was not conclusive.

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